Last month, my husband Jason and I had our fiercest argument ever. In our six-year history, I have accepted that occasional spats are part and parcel of every couple’s attempt to weave two independent lives into one harmonious fabric of existence. Even marital vows oblige us to respect the glaring reality of love’s peaks and troughs, as we openly recite “through good times and in bad” like an ominous premonition.
However, this bad time was as explosive as a nuclear bomb. Jason made himself scarce and I refused to speak to him for almost three days. After our respective time-outs, our cooler selves regretted hurt feelings and longed to reclaim the sense of closeness forbidden by our passive aggressiveness. After a long deep and meaningful conversation, our mess was sorted, apologies were exchanged, and our issues were put to rest. Life has marched forward since, but my spiritual side insists that there is a life lesson to be learned. Do inevitable outbreaks of oral fireworks light up the relationship landscape or inescapably end in matrimonial discord? Likewise, is there an acceptable level or frequency of conflict all relationships should abide by, or should conflict be subjected to a zero-tolerance policy?
This discussion should be prefaced with a snapshot of my personality: I am the first to admit I am a Type-A perfectionist with a hint of a temper. For reasons that could supply an entirely separate blog and/or therapy session, I tend to err towards people-pleasing and waving the white flag of surrender — that is, unless the matter at hand is one with which I vehemently disagree. Like a seasoned prosecutor, I have been known to smell fear and go straight for the jugular, especially when I feel wronged and can support my argument with facts rather than emotion. An old boss recently told me that my most endearing persona was the hard-edge, no-nonsense B.B., a world-class ball-buster and bullshit detector. In the priceless words of Countess Luanne of “Real Housewives,” if you are going to start with me, you’d better be prepared to finish. I am no wallflower when provoked (despite my interest in Buddhism).
My husband is my complementary opposite: a Type-B idealist with no sense of urgency. He matches my direct straight-shooting with his blunt reality-checking, often calling me out for tantrum-throwing or exaggerating the situation. Whilst other couples may discuss their issues calmly and reach a compromise in an adult-like fashion, my husband and I will hash it out like Mr. & Mrs. Smith; we have been known to raise our voices, make suggestive hand gestures, and perhaps slam a door or two. When it’s all said and done, we will reconvene, engage in the mature discussion we should have shared in the first place, and move on. On a scale from one to 10 regarding explosive arguments (10 being Sammi and Ronnie from “Jersey Shore” and one being Gandhi), I would say we peak in the vicinity of a six. Before you comment on the dysfunction of my marriage, I rassure you that despite our tumultuous communication style, my husband and I are two peas in a pod. We are each other’s best friend and biggest fan, and enjoy fishing day trips together, laughing over drinks, and a healthy sex life. We just … fight.
Recently, we met a couple that openly proclaimed that they never, ever argued. Shocked, I conjured images of them giggling and frolicking hand-in-hand in a plush, green field of utopian relationship bliss. My initial shock wore off into disbelief, which by the end of our conversation dissolved into total disdain. They were the kind of couple that would rub their noses together at parties like sickly sweet Eskimos sharing body warmth. My judgemental side believed they were lying through their teeth and scoffed at their fraudulent lovebird performance. If they weren’t lying, clearly they were suppressing their true selves around each other like two Dexters of happily ever after. I knew firsthand how even the most picture perfect unions are characterised by conflict. I can easily recall numerous girlfriends who have cried to me about arguments with their significant others for eyeing the hot receptionist at the office Christmas party, not spending enough quality time together, and not sharing household duties. Their counterparts are no different, as I have listened to my male friends complain about disagreements stemming from money, lack of sexual interest, and meddling in-laws. Even if these seemingly faultless lovers chose to project a facade of relationship perfection, my heart grappled with the existence of an argument-free marriage. Perhaps my relationship wasn’t as unblemished and laden with happiness as I imagined! I was jealous of these two and their plush, green field. Perhaps I had to be less argumentative. More diplomatic. More chill. Along with unicorns and the Loch Ness Monster, I was left to speculate that without solid evidence, the fabled argument-free relationship could possibly exist.
My intuition tells me that such a notion is still a fallacy — any two people will disagree about something at some point, even if it doesn’t lead to sleeping in separate rooms for the night. In any case, what is more interesting to me is how much arguing is too much arguing. As an MBA student, much of my thinking is compartmentalized into neat, explanatory theories and one popular theme throughout business and economics is the concept of diminishing returns or minimum efficient scale. Imagine a factory in which costs decrease as more and more shoes are produced (MBA geeks usually use “widgets” but I really like heels). At some point, the cost reductions with each additional shoe produced level-out or diminish because, for instance, the assembly line breaks from cranking out too many Louboutins and now needs repairs.
Logically, rejecting the idea of the argument-free couple insinuates that we normal folk fight now and then and quarrelling must have diminishing returns. For example, the current level of arguments isn’t a deal-breaker in my marriage, but I believe there is a point where the nuptial machine would break if the fighting escalated to a certain intensity or frequency. As a result, my personal theory advocates that the perfect relationship is not one characterized by a lack of disagreements, but by a degree of arguments each relationship can tolerate whilst still enjoying each other’s company. That measure is totally dependent on the individuals in the relationship. For Jason and I, it proves to be more heated than most, but who is to say that we are any more or less happy than all the pacifists out there?
No one is perfect. All relationships require work. I will always try to let go and not sweat the small stuff, even though the neat freak in me really detests Jason’s piles of underwear left on the bedroom floor. As relationships constantly evolve over time, I think it’s best to keep in mind how the point of argument tolerance (or my diminishing returns comparison) will also fluctuate and need to be monitored against each other’s joy. I recently heard through the grapevine that the nose-rubbing lovey dovies are splitsville. Although a part of me wants to cry out, “I told you so!” another part of me mourns the death of the myth. Perhaps they needed to argue more.
The author of this post would like to remain anonymous. If you would like to contact B.B. White, please send an email to Jessica at Jessica@TheFrisky.com and she will forward it along.